I love camping and spending time in the wilderness more than just about anything. I spent a week each summer at Camp Taconic in the Berkshire Mountains as a teenager sleeping in a lean-to and I never lost the bug after that (or my magnetic attraction for mosquitos, sadly). We would sleep in a tent in the backyard as kids, and I’ve continued to love camping with my husband ever since we first met. I find it to be incredibly relaxing sleeping outdoors and I love the conversations we have around the campfire and on our hikes, away from the distractions of our day-to-day life.
We spend about 5+ nights each summer tent camping and I hope to graduate to a tear drop camper in a few more years to increase our flexibility to take longer roadtrips and camp earlier and later into the season. Camping is such an affordable way to travel, as well! We are heading out on a camping trip this weekend at Devil’s Lake State Park.
You would think, naturally, that camping must be eco-conscious, as you’re outside and (likely) not using electricity. That being said, many camping products are single use or potentially harmful to nature. Here are some eco-conscious tips to leave a lesser impact on the environment while still enjoying camping.
- Invest in reusable water bottles, bladders or jugs for camping and hiking rather than buying individual plastic water bottles. We are big fans of Nalgene bottles as they’re darn near impossible to break and usually carry one 32 oz. bottle each with us when we hike. I also use a 2 liter hydration bladder that inserts into my daypack. Water stays cooler in the bladder and is easily accessible via the “Eddy” bite valve and tube. At our campsite, we refill our 7 gallon water container wherever potable water can be found on the campground and use it for refilling our water bottles and for dishwashing. We also strive to pack our food items in Tupperware at home rather than buying disposable packaging. It’s a simple way to generate less waste while camping.
- Make your own DIY firestarters using household waste. I want to note for safety reasons – these firestarters are NOT safe to burn indoors in an indoor fireplace! Dryer lint should never, ever be burned indoors. We save our leftover dryer lint and dryer sheets and cardboard egg cartons and make our own firestarters for camping. They’re a bit time consuming to make, but we usually make a ton all at once at the beginning of summer. These again, should not be used inside, but make use of household waste and reduce the need to purchase chemical firestarters.
- Invest in well-made outdoor gear and take care of it. One of the best ways to reduce your footprint is to buy quality made goods and repair them/keep them functioning as long as possible. We’ve bought inexpensive tents before and one of them ended up breaking irreparably the FIRST night we used it. Not only did it put a damper on our next five nights of camping, we ended up throwing away the tent after that trip. This time around we got our tent from well-respected outdoor outfitter REI. We’ve also bough some of our camping accessories from L.L. Bean, another company that stresses quality and stands behind their products.
- Learn the Leave No Trace principles and live by them. I remember visiting a cave as a child and seeing a sign outside the entrance that said “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”. That’s stuck with me for the last 18+ years. Camping and enjoying nature is meant to be about enjoying nature as it is and preserving it in that same way for others to enjoy. Learn more about the Leave No Trace principles here.
- Use biodegradable dish soap when washing dishes outdoors. I only just learned about this a few years ago – but using regular dish soap outdoors (especially when you dump your dishwater after washing) can be really harmful for the environment. Biodegradable dish soap is inexpensive and a little goes a long way. A 3 oz. bottle lasted us through about 14 nights of camping, washing dishes twice per day. The same goes for toothpaste, although we tend to camp in places that have running water in the bathrooms and have no need to dispose of toothpaste in nature. Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronner’s both make readily available biodegradable toothpaste that you can find in big box stores or pharmacies.
Have a favorite spot where you’ve camped you’d like to share? I’ll have to do a future post highlighting some of our favorite Midwest camping spots.